I can't seem to learn to read music?

by Kelly
(Brighton,Ontario,Canada)

Hi,

The question I have is I have never been able to learn how to read music, I have tried many times, I've tried to learn how to play piano, clarinet and flute and after less two years have had to quit because my teachers get frustrated with me.

If the letters are above the notes I can read the letters, but take them away I am lost. My teachers have tried to tell me what keys are what notes but this does nothing. I am just wanting to learn how to play music for fun not get into any sort of band or group.

Is there a name for individuals who can't learn to read music notes? Is there a way these types of people can learn to read music without having to learn how to read the actual notes but can learn with the letters instead? How would I go about telling a teacher this or asking this question?

Any advice would be most helpful, as I find music very relaxing and don't want my disabilities preventing me from doing the things I love and am interested in.

Thanks

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Nov 30, 2016
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by: Simon

Hi Kelly,

First - it's great that you still want to learn to read music even with the difficulties you have had and I commend that.

Without actually teaching you I will find it difficult to say why you have these challenges, but I will make some general suggestions here, do some further research and send you an email (I have removed your email address from the post above so as not to have it just hanging around on a public forum).

1. It is always difficult to move from notes with letters to notes without. I never let students write letters over notes, right from lesson 1, but in the cases where this has happened I go back to the beginning (I have even done this with Grade 5 students I have taken on) and set three notes per week to be learned. I ensure I pick notes which are far apart on the staff and try to have one with some kind of 'hook'. So, in week 1 (Treble clef) maybe B on this middle line because it is Bang in the middle, plus F in the bottom space and E in the top space. The student has one week to be able to name these notes and find them on the keyboard. They also have to go through all of their music and erase these letter names (if they are working on something where they are written in). In addition I write short pieces just using these notes which they have to play - also naming the notes out loud as they are played. In addition there are a couple of writing exercises using just these notes. The next week, I choose two more notes say D below the staff (Down below) and D on the 4th line. Students work on adding these notes and doing similar exercises to the week before. It takes time - but seems to work.

Unless there is something particularly pressing to learn a piece for I spend time working on rhythms - again very simple at first - no pitch just rhythms (on a variety of percussion instruments to keep it interesting and save your hands from clapping too much!) Again, start with just 2 simple values and add each week. The key here is the same - music isn't a race. Take it slowly one thing at a time. Get that right before moving on even if it takes a few weeks. It will be worth it in the end.

You may have a condition called musical dyslexia (also known as dysmusia) This is a similar condition to dyslexia but involves difficulty with processing music notes rather than words. However, don't immediately think this is the case and I would certainly not say it was without spending time working with you as a teacher. Here is an article if you are interested.

Even if you never learn to read music (and I do think you are right to keep trying because it gives you access to so many pieces!) you can still derive a great deal of pleasure from improvising or playing by ear.

The best way to talk to a teacher about this is exactly as you have here. Let them know at the outset that you have had problems in the past with reading and ask if they have the experience to support you, or can recommend somebody who does/can. This way it will be less frustrating for both of you.

This is a general response in case others are here with similar challenges to deal with, but as I said, I will email you with more information/advice once I have done some research.

Anybody else who has experience or advice to offer - please do!

Simon

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